Andrew and I have gardened on some scale since we were children living with our parents. After our marriage, we used our front flower beds at a rented home for growing peppers and tomatoes. When we moved to a home with a larger yard, we planted a postage stamp size garden and tried to grow a variety of crops on a small scale. That is, until the moles and an eager ground hog demolished it! After that, we lived in a rental home inside the city limits that had a massive back yard which the owners were nice enough to let us plant for two years. It was there that we began canning on a large scale. Our first “real” garden year we put up 148 quarts of green beans alone!
Our farm here closed exactly one year ago this week. One of the first things we did was plan where our home would go, the first pasture, garden area, and fruit trees. This first garden year was pretty rough, and if you read our previous article on plowing with pigs then you know exactly how rough! Most of our common garden veggies failed miserably due to weeds, flood, or excessive heat and drought. However, it was an awesome year for potatoes! Our red and white potatoes were harvested much earlier in the year, and after our great success with them we were very eager to see if our sweet potatoes would do as well also.
Now, even though we were raised gardening, neither of our families ever grew sweet potatoes. So the first thing we had to do was hit the books, and the internet, to learn about growing them. We learned that the best time to plant sweet potatoes in our area was late May to early June, well after planting time for all our other summer crops. There was also the question of which variety to plant. I was surprised to find that sweet potatoes aren’t all orange. There are a wide range of varieties ranging in color from purple to white. We chose the traditional orange route, and picked the Beauregard variety due to it’s moist and meaty flesh, high yields and resistance to cracking and soil pox. The Beauregard is a great variety for a new beginner, requiring very little attention while still producing 400-500 bushels per acre!
The Beauregard is supposed to have a 80-90 day growth period. So we planted our 50 slips as soon as they arrived the second week of June. The area we chose to plant them in tends to be more wet than the rest of the garden, so we planted them in long mounded rows. Once the slips began growing well, we came back through and hilled them up some more. The last week of September we dug a few up and found them to still be a little small for our taste. So, we gave them a few more weeks. After 110 days they were ready to harvest. Andrew and William hooked up the potato plow and went to work.
It didn’t take long for Andrew and the kids to fill up a wheel barrow. Cierra was only a week old at the time, so she and I supervised and took pictures. We had 2 ½ rows 50 foot long to harvest. After just one row, the wheel barrow was over half full!
The kids thought digging potatoes was great fun! William was especially good at finding all the ones that Daddy missed. By the time they were on the second row, Macey had decided that maybe sweet potato harvesting was not the career path for her. William though stuck with it to the end, and worked side by side with Andrew until it was done.
So once our sweet potatoes were all dug up, we ran into a small dilemma. With no storage cellar or basement, no covered porch or garage… where exactly were we supposed to put all of these potatoes? Well with a newborn in the house and a schedule that leaves little time for relaxation, we headed to our large corner tub in the master bath. We figured it might as well serve a useful purpose. It is now filled 2/3 full with sweet potatoes! We simply placed our sweet potatoes in layers with newspaper between the layers being careful to place any damaged ones on top to be used first.
Now when sweet potatoes are first harvested they need to be cured for an extended period of time if you desire that full, sweet, moist flavor. It is suggested that the cure for 6-8 weeks for optimum flavor. We let ours rest for three weeks before using them for the first time, and as delicious as they were then I can’t imagine what they will taste like in a few more weeks!
With Thanksgiving right around the corner, it is the perfect time of year to be talking sweet potatoes! Our family loves preparing sweet potatoes in a number of ways, not just during the holiday season but all throughout the year. We each have our own favorite, and we’ve decided to share a few of them with you. Since many of you are probably most familiar with baked potatoes and casseroles, we've chosen some not so common recipes to share with you now.
* * * * *
Sweet Potato Fries
5 medium sweet potatoes
1 ½ tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
Wash and peel sweet potatoes, then slice into fry size sticks. Heat grease in a deep fryer to 375 degrees. Place potatoes in the fryer and fry sweet potatoes the same as you would traditional fries.
Cook until brown and crispy. Mean while, mix sugar, cinnamon, and salt together in a small bowl. Remove from heat, drain excess oil off and immediately place in large bowl (with a lid). Sprinkle sugar mixture over fries, secure lid and shake to coat well. Serve warm for best flavor. 5 medium potatoes will serve 5-6 people.
* * * * *
Sweet Potato Yeast Rolls
1 pack yeast
2 tablespoon white sugar
2 medium or 3 small sweet potatoes
½ cup warm water
3 tablespoon soft butter
1 teaspoon sale
4 + cups flour
2 tablespoon brown sugar
Peel, dice and cook sweet potatoes in boiling water until soft. Drain, mash, and set aside. Dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in water and sit for 10 minutes. Add all ingredients except flour together and mix well. Add 4 cups of flour. Kneed gently on greased surface for 3 minutes. Add enough flour to dough for it to not be sticky, do not over knead. Place in an oiled bowl, turn to coat dough and rise in warm location for 1 hour. (Hint: preheat oven to 200 degrees, turn it off and rise dough in the oven under a moist towel). After rising, punch dough down and rest for 2 minutes. Divide into 16-20 balls and place on greased cookie sheet. Rise for 45 minutes, or until doubled. Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until golden in color. Serve warm, best served with a side of honey butter!
* * * * *
Sweet Potato Pie
1 ½ lb. sweet potatoes
½ cup softened butter
½ cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup milk
¼ teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon cloves
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 9” unbaked pie crust
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Boil peeled sweet potatoes until done. Mash and mix sweet potatoes with butter until smooth. Add sugars, milk, eggs, vanilla, and spices. Beat on medium speed until smooth and well blended. Pour into unbaked pie crust.
Bake at 350 degrees for 55-60 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Pie will puff up while baking and may sink or crack in center while cooling.
Sweet potatoes are a very healthy and versatile addition to your winter diet! We hope that you enjoy trying some of our recipes during your holiday season. Join us next week, as we share some of our favorite holiday recipes including pumpkin bread, broccoli and cheese casserole, corn pudding, and maybe a few other surprises!